A word with Gio Swaby

Dinah Cardin for Peabody Essex Museum

Gio Swaby is a multidisciplinary artist exploring the intersections of Blackness and womanhood. Swaby was born in 1991 in the Bahamas and works in Canada. She creates portraits of women from her own tight social circle using a range of textile-based techniques. The portraits are anchored in the artist’s desire to represent and celebrate the complex ways women style themselves. Swaby forges close connections with her subjects – each portrait begins with a photo shoot where the artist invites women to show up as they are, wearing what makes them feel comfortable and confident. As Swaby takes photos, she notes the moments when the women relax, and come into a sense of self-awareness and empowerment. These moments inspire Swaby’s portraits as well as her selection of fabrics and threads. She upends tradition with her often life-size portraits, which give a sense of monumentality to the techniques of embroidery and piecing. She also presents the reverse side of her intricately rendered canvases so that the stitching process of her freehand style — with its normally hidden knots and loose threads — is visible. While there is a vulnerability to Swaby "showing the back," she embraces and elevates these imperfections. Gio Swaby: Fresh Up is at PEM August 12 through November 26, 2023.

July 28, 2023